This year the Center for Leadership and Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) are celebrating their 10-year partnership in offering the award-winning Principals Leadership Development Program. This program is designed to empower M-DCPS principals to become more effective leaders and change agents in their respective schools and in the South Florida community. The partnership is made possible through a generous endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
As part of this 10-year celebration, the Center for Leadership will be featuring one principal from each of the ten cohorts over the coming academic year. Dr. April Thompson-Williams, principal at Jose de Diego Middle School and Cohort V alumna of the Principal Leadership Development Program (2014-2015), was our fifth interviewee to share her thoughts on leadership, the program, and her experience as a principal.
Q: What is leadership?
ATW: There are several styles and qualities that come to mind when I think of a leader. Leadership is an individual who possesses strategic skills that are key to driving an organization. Once a leader identifies the needs of an organization, they work to further deepen their knowledge and build strengths from within. The results are sustainable practices that meet the desired goal.
Q: Reflecting on your experience as part of the Principals Leadership Development Program at the Center for Leadership, what one lesson from that program would you share with other leaders?
ATW: A lesson that was paramount in my experience with PLDP was the exercise that aided in developing my vision as a leader. The “Jump Start Your School Vision” activity guides principals in the creation and development of their school vision while factoring in key ideas that are either aspirational and/or exciting elements. This activity when used pushes leaders beyond the surface of a vision while ensuring that a pulse remains on its impact on the community they serve.
Q: How has this been beneficial to you in your own leadership?
ATW: This activity was beneficial due to the demographics of my school. I serve a transient population with gentrification at its doorsteps. Most of the staff employed are educators with less than 5 years of experience. Factoring in these elements requires the leadership team each year to reflect on what worked the past year, future aspirations and what steps are needed to meet the needs of the school and its community. The four questions utilized in the Jump Start Your School Vision serve as a guide to ensure that we are future-focused on the school’s goal and steps needed for implementation.
Q: Briefly describe a memory/moment that had a significant effect on you during your tenure as principal and any lessons you learned that would be helpful to share with others.
ATW: As the principal of a school we often do not realize the impact we make on our community. During the first year as a principal, I was challenged with changing the climate and culture while improving the performance of students at a transformational school. The vision of rebranding the image of the school surfaced as a possible avenue for this change. Through the efforts of lobbying local artists and soliciting parents, students and the community input the school was transformed via a blanket of 86 murals. The transformation of a school building and innovative ideas led to the increase of school pride amongst students and staff followed by the support of a community that welcomed both a visual facelift and participation in school/community events. The touching moment for me was the day we unveiled the murals to the community. Students from each homeroom selected an artist and they created cards of thanks. Students were observed presenting cards and the response from the artists was tears of joy. While they envisioned the physical change of a structure they did not factor in their impact on the hearts of students, parents and the community. Today, the school hosts annual events such as turkey giveaways, Harvest Day and student performances to over 5,000 families and guests.
Want to learn more?
Read the other principal interviews at: